By Luke Edwards for Telegraph UK

John Hardie's motivation to rebuild his career and reputation at Newcastle Falcons after a drug ban is one many will understand – the desire to make his parents proud again, to give something back to those who have always stood by him.

Born and raised in New Zealand, Hardie converted to Scotland's cause, through a Scottish grandmother and on the back of a successful spell at Edinburgh as an openside flanker with the foraging skills to make himself a nuisance at any breakdown.

He was a regular in the Scotland side, excelling at the World Cup in 2015. Things were good, the decision to leave the family farm, 90km south of Queenstown, to move to Europe was a success. He could not have been happier.


Then came the moment that threatened everything. A night out, an allegation he had been seen taking cocaine in an Edinburgh bar.

There was a disciplinary hearing, a three-month ban followed, even though he had not failed a drug test. Hardie felt like an outcast. Through it all, the thing that hurt him most was the shame and regret he had caused those back home who loved him most. It still bites, more than a year later.

Hardie represented Scotland at the 2015 World Cup. Photo / Photosport
Hardie represented Scotland at the 2015 World Cup. Photo / Photosport

"It did cross my mind that I'd be seen as damaged goods," said Hardie, his features carrying most of the trademark battle scars of a top-level flanker. "You always have those sorts of things in the back of your mind, but you have to remember that you have done a lot of things in your career that had a more positive impact.

"It was a really difficult time for those close to me. For me, personally, it made me a better person. It made me not take things for granted. I think I've come out of it with a different outlook on life. I think that's what it taught me.

"It's always going to be there in the background. It's going to be there when people do a search for my name on the internet. I know for my parents, it's hard, because whenever they read something in the paper it's, 'John Hardie... something, something'. It's around those lines.

"They don't like that, but like me, they've just got to accept it. I've got to go back out on the rugby field and make them proud and re-enforce the fact that I've moved on. I want to make my mum and dad proud again. They have always loved watching me play rugby and I want to give them that pleasure again."

Hardie returned to the Edinburgh side at the end of his ban last year, but he was tarnished by the scandal. He missed the Six Nations, lost his place in the Scotland squad and left the Scottish capital in the summer when his contract was not renewed.

The 30 year-old had no idea what the future held. A summer move to Clermont was ruined by a back injury and the French club declined to sign him. Another month out of the game and the suffocating fear he would not find another club willing to sign him.


It brought things sharply into perspective. If he got another chance, if someone was willing to take a risk, he would seize it. That was when Newcastle stepped in.

John Hardie in action for the Newcastle Falcons. Photo / Getty
John Hardie in action for the Newcastle Falcons. Photo / Getty

An injury to captain Will Welch opened a slot for a flanker and Hardie was back doing what he loved. This week, the Falcons announced they have agreed to extend the contract he signed to the end of the season for another two years.

"Newcastle have given me a really good opportunity and they have backed me," Hardie said, in an accent that immediately betrays where he comes from.

"I spent the summer in Clermont. I lost a bit of time, but they helped me a lot with my rehab and got me up and running again, which meant when the opportunity arose, I was ready to go.

"It was about a month that I didn't have a club, I didn't know where I was going to go. It was an uncertain period, but it makes you grateful for what you have got. It teaches you not to take anything for granted.

"Once you get that opportunity, you've got to take it. I think it was good for me to come to a new club. It took me out of my comfort zone. When you get too comfortable, you can get a little bit stale.

"It did cross my mind to go back to New Zealand, but I wanted to keep exploring, I wanted to keep playing overseas, that was always my dream. I wanted to exhaust every option and I was lucky enough to get picked up by Newcastle.

"It felt like a very long month, it was the first time I'd not been able to play rugby since I was a kid. I was watching a bit on television, but I had to stop. I had to switch everything off because it was winding me up. I was jealous watching everyone play. It was good for me in a way, it got my hunger back. It made me really treasure my job."

It has not been all smooth going on Tyneside. Newcastle, who play Montpellier in the Champions Cup on Saturday, are bottom of the Gallagher Premiership, four points adrift. Last season's surprise package, when they finished fourth, are back in a more familiar relegation danger.